Sports

He’s a long ways from San Joaquin Memorial ... and the Lakers, for that matter

Brook Lopez, the former San Joaquin Memorial High star, reacts to a made 3-pointer during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals against the Toronto Raptors Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in Milwaukee. Lopez scored 29 points to lead the Bucks to a 108-100 victory.
Brook Lopez, the former San Joaquin Memorial High star, reacts to a made 3-pointer during the second half of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals against the Toronto Raptors Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in Milwaukee. Lopez scored 29 points to lead the Bucks to a 108-100 victory. Associated Press

Brook Lopez screamed for what felt like 82 straight seconds after hitting his first shot Wednesday night. If he had stayed with the Lakers for this past season, that scream might’ve lasted for 82 straight games.

Circumstances that still have people around the NBA scratching their heads allowed for the Bucks to sign Lopez to a $3.4 million contract more than a week into free agency. Instead of staying with the Lakers, something he says he was willing to do, Lopez took a job firing 3-pointers, grabbing rebounds and blocking shots on the NBA’s best team.

He was the unlikely hero in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, scoring a team-high 29 points to go with 11 rebounds and four blocks in a 108-100 victory.

Lopez has undergone a career redefinition, transforming from an All-Star post player to one of the NBA’s deepest shooting threats. Wednesday against the Raptors, eight of his 3-point attempts came from at least 27 feet away from the basket.

“This couldn’t have worked out better,” he said.

Instead of being dragged down with instability, trade rumors and a disconnected front office, the former San Joaquin Memorial High star found himself part of one the league’s strongest cultures, a team where misses do no harm, where mistakes are just a chance for improvement and where three more wins earns you a spot in the NBA Finals.

“In a big moment,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, “that was a great Brook Lopez tonight.”

The Raptors led for 37 of 48 minutes but withered in the fourth quarter. Lopez was instrumental then with three of his four 3-pointers and 13 points total.

“I think we did a good job of sticking with what we’ve been doing all postseason long,” Lopez said.

Fresno connection

Lopez remains a big booster of his hometown, wearing a Fresno Grizzlies jersey to Wednesday’s postgame news conference. (Earlier in the playoffs, he rocked a Fresno Tacos jersey.)

His twin brother, Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez, and former San Joaquin Memorial teammate Quincy Pondexter of the San Antonio Spurs enjoyed some Twitter banter about the big night.

“When did you teach Brook how to shoot 3s like this and why is his celebration cooler than yours?!?” Pondexter asked.

“I'm having the time of my life at home watching Facts of Life reruns I swear to God,” deadpanned Robin Lopez, who’s earning a reputation for his creative talents by starring in an NBA cross-promotion commercial for the upcoming movie “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.”

Fresno Bee Staff contributed to this report.

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